Starting off with the Ulster Covenant in 2012, the island of Ireland faces a whole plethora of centenaries in the next decade, how we (ie those of us living on the island of whatever political, religious or national persuasion) deal with them will most probably shape our present and future.
Having detailed their background and political influences, Jude Collin’s latest book, “Whose past is it anyway?” goes on to ask seventeen folk from “across the spectrum of political allegiances and perspectives” their own personal opinion on and what they feel will be the wider likely impact of three of those centenaries: the previously mentioned Ulster Covenant, the 1916 Easter Uprising and the Battle of the Somme. A prior word of warning; like me, you should really give it a second reading, before writing off the conclusions as exactly what you’d expected from, for example, Jim Allister or Brian Leeson of Eirigi.
No number of readings would however change my verdict on Niall O’Dowd’s verdict- once you’ve compared the signing of the Ulster Covenant to “Hitler’s rise to power in Germany” (however flippantly), then under the rules of Godwin’s Law your opinion can be safely disregarded . You also get the impression that Tim Pat Coogan is finding the new Post Belfast Agreement world, a world where Unionists not only come down to Dublin but also discard their horns and spiky tails at the border, shake your hand and look like normally functioning and sane human-beings is not a world Tim Pat feels entirely comfortable in.
Apart from those two (to put it politely)nuance-free pieces, you will learn something new…or, at least, have your thoughts provoked by all the other contributors. Jim Allister’s parents came from County Monaghan. I didn’t know that and it, to an extent, I guess it helps to explain his politics. Mary Lou McDonald talks a great deal of sense (“… but Unionism has to make the case for the Union. They can’t go on, “Oh, but we’ve got more than 50% so feck off, that’s how it is! What’s the case for the Union? That’s the challenge for them”). Yes, I know she’s a Shinner but if her type of logic and philosophy ever seeps northwards towards a new generation of “post-conflict”, non-sectarian republicans, republicans with no blood on their hands, republicans embarrassed by the logical bloody outworkings of the “Armed Struggle,” then Unionism is going to get a mighty shake out of its present comfort-zone.
They are but two examples of what I was talking about but without exception, all of the other writers from Roddy Doyle to Enda Kennedy to (yes) Ian Paisley Jr will say something which makes you think. As a Unionist I found (along with McDonald’s) Bernadette McAliskey’s, Fr Brian D’Arcy’s and Robert Ballagh’s pieces especially challenging (no, actually, make that “uncomfortable”). I would have welcomed a more liberalish Unionist, maybe even non-political voice to join Jim Allister, Gregory Campbell, Ian Paisley Jr and Davy Adams but, after all, there are four pro-Union contributors out of seventeen which I think is not too bad a percentage really! Also it might have been appropriate to have enlisted the views of a couple of younger people as well- after all, they will be the ones most affected in the long term by the results of commemorations.
Curiously enough though all of those that did write (with the possible exception of McAliskey) are, at least cautiously, optimistic about the next ten years. Seeing how (by and large) well the Covenant commemorations and celebrations went maybe they are right but I guess by 2021 we’ll all be in a better position to judge that.
Anyway, well worth a read and don’t let its one and only Amazon review, with a “Cheap hate propaganda” (it’s really not ) put you off. And yes, the author ( or more accurately compiler) is Jude Collins and yes, Jude Collins is one of Unionism’s most persistent bogeymen online and in the press (Irish News, the ATN and Radio Ulaidh as he refers to it).
But this is a worthy subjective record of not only our past but where we are at the present moment in our history and where we may be in ten years time.
“Whose past is it anyway?”
Author: Jude Collins
Published by: The History Press Ireland
Year of Publication: 2012
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